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the border between cool and lame

January 19, 2009 by jjosh

For Christmas I got a bunch of 33 & 1/3’s, (also, Gamera does a good job of explaining them here) but without a doubt the most interesting one was on Celine Dion’s "Let’s Talk About Love". Not so much a critique of the actual album (although it is that), it’s more a critical examination of taste, and what it means to like something or dislike something. How our tastes develop (along economic lines, social lines, cultural lines), what is meant by the social currency of cool — all this interesting snooty critical theory stuff with Celine Dion as the springboard. It’s pretty great.

One of the more interesting lines of thought in the book was our fear of liking things that are overly sentimental, or tacky. He posits a theory that part of our dislike of these things is that they make us feel too much, they threaten to pull too much emotion out of us, and that we resist this so that we can still feel we have a hold on our emotions, that we are in control of our feelings. But maybe this isn’t the best thing for us, maybe it would be good for us if we could feel things strongly, really let ourselves go and feel the emotion that certain works of art are trying so desperately to make us feel.

The great thing was that I was reading a lot of this book in LA at our hotel pool — a pool that was too close to the freeway so they blasted middle-of-the-road rock to drown out the traffic noise. I’m reading this stuff about maybe giving in to the emotion and I’m listening to "Livin on a Prayer" and "Blinded by the Light" and so on. I tried to feel what it felt like to give in to these songs and it was interesting as anything. Reminded me of going to church and saying to myself "just for fun I’m going to feel what it would feel like to really BELIEVE. How does it feel? Just give in…" There’s something to it, it’s valuable somehow.

So recently whenever I see or hear something that makes me cringe a little, I try to let go of that feeling and just embrace whatever it is that’s making me cringe. This seems to be particularly effective when dealing with new pop culture stuff that’s right on the border of cool/lame. I love seeing things where I can’t tell if it’s great or if it’s weak. This guy Juiceboxxx is right there. I def appreciate the energy, and I can tell part of it is a goof, and part of it is super serious, but I just can’t make up my mind about it. I know I don’t need to have it on my ipod, but I like watching the video (it’s also a great video). Plus he’s 21, and from Milwaukee, and it seems like so much of his vibe is about being for the kids and I love that. What do you think?


  1. KT Granger says:

    The reason you love this is the same reason that I love cheesy sports movies where one team/competitor can’t get their head in the game and the other team/competitor helps them out “for the love of the game.” It’s just so good to see someone doing something that they love and are so committed to that they just want to share it. And without a shred of irony. It takes guts to put yourself out there like that.

    But I must say that I don’t think we fear overly sentimental stuff because it makes us feel too much. I don’t like it because it makes me feel manipulated and like what I think and feel is not even remotely unique. Like when you’re a teenager and you think that no one will ever understand you because you’re sooo deep, but then you realize that everyone’s listening to Pink Floyd and writing bad poetry.

  2. jjosh says:

    I like both of your paragraphs. But I think the author would argue with the second one — why is unique-ness so prized? The idea of feeling too much, or being MADE to feel too much is really just a reaction to the artwork trying to bring out those feelings that we all have. He argues that there’s something to be gained from accepting and loving the fact that everyone’s writing bad poetry and listening to Pink Floyd. That if you can accept that, you will have access to some feelings that are universal and not to be feared.

    I’m not explaining it as well as he does, and it’s pretty heady stuff so I can’t make his arguments as well. It just involves questioning why you like or don’t like something, and then once you get your reasons, questioning them too.

    JG texted me a little while back about seeing The Wrestler and thinking it was terrible and then thinking that maybe he had been conditioned as to what he thought was “good”. And if he revised that thinking, maybe the film WAS good. And that if he went further, would he have to revise what made a good book, song, life? It’s interesting stuff at the very least.

    When I see you next I”ll lend you the book if you’re interested…it’s def one that I’m gonna read again..

  3. KT Granger says:

    Unique-ness is prized because we are a culture of individuals. We are taught that the achievements of individuals will further the society as a whole, rather than some other cultures that value sacrifice of the individual for the greater good. But I’m willing to let Celine Dion convince me…

    Also, I think we are conditioned as to what we think is “good” but some things supercede that condintioning because they are just so good. Remember when we saw a bunch of the Beethoven sonatas at Tanglewood (and Dad geeked out with pianist)? Listening to all the different stuff he wrote, you can see why the Moonlight Sonata is so famous–it’s just head and shoulders above the rest. Not that he was slouching on the other stuff, but that piece speaks so universally. So maybe “The Wrestler” really does suck.

  4. Gamera says:

    Fascinating discussions…I’m intrigued by the book and it’s thesis. I wonder about this too because over the past few years I’ve started to shed my rock snobbishness and start to appreciate the universally shat upon music of groups like journey and miley cyrus and tool. at least, they’re disliked by much of the indie hipoisie. at on one level i certainly enjoy it, not really ironically, but with an understanding of how silly and absurd it can seem but finding a way to truly appreciate it too. once i break through that shell i wonder why others can’t appreciate cheesy soft rock or tween pop like i do and can’t figure it out. it’s certainly easier to put up barriers and create rules about what’s good and what’s not, what you’ll listen to and what you’ll consistently ignore. it allows us to focus and cut out some of the cultural static that threatens to consume us more and more on a daily basis as it builds up and becomes more accessible. at this point i believe i can find merit in just about any music save neo-grunge and countrypolitan but i have yet to be able to do this with other forms of entertainment like books and movies. maybe someday i’ll enjoy underworld: rise of the lycans and sue grafton the way i do ‘nsync and fall out boy.

  5. jjosh says:

    you gotta read the book Gamera, you’d love it…he spends a little bit talking about the way people often say “I’ll listen to anything…except _______” (often it’s “country” or “rap” or “metal”) so it was fun to see your specific “anything but” selections — neo-grunge does indeed sound awful, but what in the higgity-heck is countrypolitan?…

    anyway, pick it up, it’s a really good read, one of the best 33 1/3’s, up there with the one for Led Zepplin 4…

  6. KT Granger says:

    1. I love the word “hipoisie” and I’m going to start slipping into everyday conversations.
    2. Don’t knock Underworld (are the hipoisie too good to watch David Frost playing a werewolf?)
    3. As a teenager I ruled out all classic rock–can you believe it? The silver lining is that I now have a whole universe of Led Zepplin and the Who to discover. Still, countrypolitan (Toby Keith I presume?) seems like a 10th Level lesson in music humility and I’m just not sure I’m there yet. Better to warm up with ACDC and see how it takes.

  7. Gamera says:

    Toby Keith seems like he’d be countrypolitan. I use it to describe the ultra-slick and soulless modern country that is more about manufactured sound and style than actual boot scootin boogies.

  8. KT Granger says:

    You know, I was listening to the radio the other day and the guy was saying that the problem with modern country (or countrypolitan if you will) is that you don’t believe the singers ever experience the kind of troubles they’re singing about. Hank Williams Sr., Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings–they all lived hard, loved the wrong people, and drank themselves silly. When they sing about rock bottom, you believe them. Kenny Chesney, not so much.

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